Our Favorite Places

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Family Vacations, Summer 1996

Our Favorite Places

The Big Picture You might think a traditional beach vacation this far north in Oregon would be out of the question, but a lifeguard stand and boardwalk offer compelling evidence to the contrary. Seaside is on a particularly scenic stretch of Oregon's rugged coast, just above Tillamook Head. Its broad, flat beach--studded with playground equipment and volleyball --would be the envy of many a sand-starved southern California coastal community. Dating back to 1908, the Prom--short for Promenade, Seaside's concrete boardwalk--follows the beach for one and a half miles.

Things To Do Few actually risk total immersion in Seaside's frigid, 55-degree water without wetsuits. Kids happily splash around in the surf, however, and people play on the beach in other ways--sandcastle-building, kite-flying, skimboarding on the hard, wet sand, and pedaling around on low-to-the-ground beach tricycles. The waves are good for surfing and bodyboarding, and surfboards and wetsuits can be rented at Cleanline Surf Shop (503-738-7888). Outdoor Fun for All (503-738-8447) rents bikes, mopeds, in-line skates, and kayaks. Kayaking is safe and easy in Nehalem Bay, an estuary of the Necanicum River that flows through town. Boardsailors point their sails to Fort Stevens and Youngs Bay, 20 miles north on the Columbia River. Hikers head to Ecola State Park, seven miles south, for matchless views from trails out to Ecola Point and Tillamook Head.

Where To Stay The Shilo Inn (doubles, $168-$220; 503-738-9571) is a five-story hotel with a heated pool and fitness center. Two Prom-side contenders are the Hi-Tide Motel (doubles, $120; 503-738-8414) and the Best Western Ocean View Resort (doubles, $80-$172; 800-234-8439).

For More Info Seaside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau; 800-444-6740.

The Big Picture Less commercial than most of Florida's developed barrier islands, eight-mile-long Siesta Key is one bridge removed from Sarasota--close enough to hop into town for food and fun, far enough to confer a sense of island quietude. Siesta Key's claim to fame is its bright-white quartzite sand that's been pulverized to the consistency of powdered sugar, especially on 2.8-mile Crescent Beach in the island's midsection. From May to September endangered loggerhead and green turtles nest on the island.

Things To Do The Gulf of Mexico, needless to say, is an inviting swimming hole (average summer water temp is 85 degrees). Crescent Beach is great for walking and running; Turtle Beach, farther south, is best for shelling. Snorkelers can poke along the reef off Point of Rocks looking for snook and grouper. Sweetwater Kayaks (941-346-1179) leads tours of the gulf and bay; on some you'll paddle alongside dolphins ($25 per person). For mechanized fun, All Watersports (941-921-2754) rents boats and watercraft (Jet Skis, $45-$65 per hour; motor boats, $25 per hour); and offers charter fishing, waterskiing, and diving trips. Siesta Key Parasail (941-346-5052) specializes in its namesake activity ($45 per person). A wide walking/biking path makes Ocean Boulevard and Beach Road safe for cyclists and in-line skaters. Everything from bikes to boats can be rented at Mr. CB's Saltwater Outfitters (941-349-4400).

Where To Stay Captiva Beach Resort (doubles, $315; 800-349-4131) and Sara Sea Inn at the Beach (doubles with kitchenettes, $75; 941-349-3244) both have pools and are within 500 yards of the beach. Many families rent condos for a week or longer ($600 and up); for a list of available properties, contact the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce (see below).

For More Info Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce; 941-349-3800.

The Big Picture A hard-packed, white-sand beach runs for three miles in this well-mannered Victorian-style community, which protrudes like a pointing finger into Delaware Bay. Perched on the Atlantic Flyway, Cape May is considered one of the best birding sites in the world. You might see a half-million robins fill the sky or spot rarer species like peregrine falcons and northern harriers. There's an asphalt boardwalk and bikeable back roads that pass through rural farmland and nature refuges; the beach itself is pounded by two- to three-foot waves. Compared with its noisy upcoast neighbors on the Jersey shore, Cape May unfolds like a flickering reel from the nineteenth century.

Things To Do Bird-watching is a year-round obsession in Cape May. For the low-down on shorebird, raptor, and songbird migrations--plus info on guided walks--call the Cape May Bird Observatory Hotline (609-884-2626) or drop by the headquarters on East Lake Drive. The Village Bicycle Shop (2 Victorian Village Plaza; 609-884-8500) rents everything from two-wheelers to surreys. You can pedal the quiet side streets checking out the Victorians (there are 600 houses on the National Register of Historic Places) or head out to Cape May Point State Park, three miles south of town. Park visitors climb the 199-step Cape May Lighthouse and hike the three short trails that meander over freshwater marshes and soft-sand beaches. Kayak tours of Cape May's sounds, tidal creeks, and harbor are led by Aqua Trails (two- to four-hour trips, $30-$50; 609-884-5600).

Where To Stay The venerable Marquis de Lafayette (doubles, $148-$228; 800-257-0432) has occupied its ocean-view spot for decades. A three-story motel adjoins the six-story, all-suites hotel with heated pool. To arrange a stay, call the Cape May Reservation Service (609-884-3191), which represents 70 percent of the town's B&Bs, hotels, motels, and guest houses.

For More Info Chamber of Commerce of Greater Cape May; 609-884-5508.

South Carolina
The Big Picture Twelve miles of sandy ocean beaches are the big draw to this tennis-shoe-shaped island deep in the South Carolina low country. In some places, the flat, hard-packed beach is 600 feet wide. The west side of Hilton Head is rimmed with salt marshes and lagoons; in between are dense stands of subtropical trees--oaks, pines, bays, and palmettos. Alligators, bobcats, and 250 species of birds share Hilton Head with duffers and condo-dwellers, and some 800 acres of wildlife preserves manage to keep the place relatively unspoiled.

Things To Do There are 29 golf courses and 300 tennis courts, but the beach beats 'em all. The sand is hard enough for bicycling; for rentals try Hilton Head Bicycle ($10 per day; 803-686-6888) and Peddling Pelican Bike Rentals ($10-$25 per day; 803-785-5470). Shore Beach Service (803-785-3494) rents catamarans, aquacycles, bikes, Boogie boards, and more. April through October is offshore fishing season for grouper, king mackerel, and shark. Arrange half-day fishing trips for up to six people at Harbor Town Yacht Basin ($195-$365; 803-671-2704) and South Beach Marina ($250-$300: 803-671-3060); both also rent out watercraft. You can hike along several miles of trails in 650-acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve, home to herons, egrets, and ibis.

Where To Stay Hilton Head's high-end hotels--such as the towering beachfront Westin Resort (doubles, $150-$290; 800-228-3000)--make life easy on families by providing a camplike children's program with arts and crafts, swimming, and games. The island has thousands of hotel and motel rooms as well as villas and homes for rent. For listings, contact the Visitors Information Center (see below).

For More Info Hilton Head Island Visitors Information Center; 803-785-3673.

The Big Picture Within an hour's drive of Disneyland, Sea World of California, and The San Diego Zoo, Carlsbad projects the less-harried character of a self-styled village by the sea, with Old World architecture, inland lagoons, and long, skinny beaches. The town and surrounding flower-growing region are a riot of eye-catching fields and gardens. Four miles downcoast is South Carlsbad State Park, where a blufftop campground overlooks the beach.

Things To Do A wide concrete walkway runs along Carlsbad State Beach, where people jog, cycle, and skate at all hours. The summer surf is tame on this lifeguarded ribbon of sand and pebbles, making it safe for families. Witt's Carlsbad Pipeline (619-729-4423) sells surfboards, skateboards, and bodyboards (they'll rent you the latter as well). Agua Hedionda Lagoon--south of Carlsbad State Beach on either side of Carlsbad Boulevard--is a good spot for swimming, fishing, and waterskiing. California Water Sports (619-434-3089), on the lagoon at Snug Harbor Marina, rents kayaks, Wave Runners, and water skis, and offers waterskiing lessons. Batiquitos Lagoon, east of South Carlsbad State Beach, is an ecological reserve with miles of shoreline trails.

Where To Stay Top-of-the-line in Carlsbad is the La Costa Resort & Spa (doubles, $225; 619-438-9111), a world-famous golf-and-tennis getaway where there's Camp La Costa for kids five to 12. Carlsbad Inn Beach Resort (doubles and suites, $140-$198; 800-235-3939) is less expensive and closer to the beach. Camping at South Carlsbad State Beach will place you even closer to the waves, but reservations (call Destinet at 800-444-7275) are essential.

For More Info Carlsbad Convention & Visitors Bureau; 800-227-5722.

The Big Picture Alabama nearly gets elbowed out of the coastal picture by Florida's Panhandle, but its small stretch of gulf coast, with the low-key resort community of Gulf Shores as its hub, comprises 32 miles of soft, white beaches and water that's comfortably swimmable eight months a year. And it's not totally resortified; extensive tracts of beach and woodlands have been preserved at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and Gulf State Park.

Things To Do Sportfishing is king in the Gulf Shores area, which calls itself the Red Snapper Capital of the World. From Little Lagoon to Lake Shelby, Cotton Bayou to Perdido Bay, and out into the blue waters of the open gulf, world-record snappers, cobias, and triggerfish are hauled in. Charter a fishing boat at Perdido Pass Marina ($500 for a six-hour trip for six people; 800-844-6481), eight miles east of Gulf Shores at Alabama Point. Rent watercraft in the marina at Perdido Pass Parasail & Waverunner (334-981-5505). Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge (334-540-7720) occupies the peninsula west of town, where migratory birds make landfall after a 600-mile trans-gulf flight. Beautiful beaches, three miles of trails, a small lake, and scads of tired flycatchers and hummingbirds can be found here. Part of Gulf State Park (334-948-7275) is a state-run resort with three freshwater lakes, a two-mile beach, an 825-foot fishing pier, and five short hiking trails.

Where To Stay A building boom on Alabama's Gulf Coast keeps bringing new properties to Gulf Shores, such as an all-suites addition at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites (doubles, $130; suites, $225; 800-662-4853). The Lighthouse Resort Motel (doubles and apartments, $71-$145; 334-948-6188) claims 620 feet of private beach. Gulf State Park has its own 144-room beachfront hotel (doubles, $99; 800-544-4853), plus 17 rental cabins on Lake Shelby and a whopping 468 campsites ($11-$25 per night).

For More Info Alabama Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau; 800-745-7763.

Copyright 1996, Outside magazine

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